Paramountcy (Canada)

In Canadian constitutional law, the doctrine of paramountcy establishes that where there is a conflict between valid provincial and federal laws, the federal law will prevail and the provincial law will be inoperative to the extent that it conflicts with the federal law. This model of paramountcy is often known as "federal paramountcy."

Historically, the doctrine was interpreted very strictly. When there was any overlap between federal or provincial laws the federal law would always render the provincial law inoperative even where there is no conflict. It was over time that courts and academics began to interpret the power as only applying where conformity to one law would necessarily violate the other. The Supreme Court of Canada adopted the latter interpretation in the decision of "Smith v. The Queen", [1960] S.C.R. 776. The Court held that there must be an "operational incompatibility" between the laws in order to invoke paramountcy.

The modern use of the paramountcy doctrine was articulated in "Multiple Access v. McCutcheon". Both the provincial and federal governments enacted virtually identical insider trading legislation. The Court found that statutory duplication does not invoke paramountcy as the court had the discretion to prevent double penalties. Instead, paramountcy can only be invoked when then compliance with one means the breach of the other.

A later example of this doctrine was in the decision of "Law Society of British Columbia v. Mangat" where the Court found an operational conflict between the provincial Law Society Act prohibiting non-lawyers from appearing in front of a judge and the Immigration Act which allowed non-lawyers to appear before the immigation tribunal.

See also

* Preemption and the Supremacy clause


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